Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Curiouser and Curiouser

By Tim Hannan

A new case of Alice in Wonderland syndrome draws attention to how little is known about perceived distortions of body size.

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If judged by the marked increase in its press coverage, it might be assumed that a pandemic of Alice in Wonderland syndrome is imminent. In December, the Daily Mail in Britain profiled a young woman who has, from the age of 5 years, suffered transient episodes in which she perceives her body to grow while objects shrink around her. The condition was also characterised in the television series House, and the medical literature has recently featured a number of clinical reviews and case reports. Yet, despite this increased attention, little progress has made in understanding the cause of these bizarre symptoms, or in identifying any effective treatment.

The syndrome was first documented in 1952 by an American physician, who described the experiences of seven adult migraine sufferers, all of whom he noted to be without evident neurological or psychological illness other than migraine headaches. One patient described the sensation of feeling only one foot tall, another of seeming abnormally tall, and a third wrote of being both short and wide, “as the reflection in one of those broadening mirrors one sees in carnivals”. Another patient labelled this last illusion as her “Tweedle-Dum or Tweedle-Dee feeling”, after characters in Through the Looking Glass. Others reported the sensation of a body part being elongated, with one diarising her symptoms as “I get all tired out...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.